11 October 2014

Poor marks for research

Written by Taberez Ahmed Neyaz | Posted: October 11, 2014 

There has been much debate about improving the global rankings of Indian universities. Many consider these university rankings to be skewed towards Western countries. But this view fails to account for the performance of Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore and Hong Kong, which do well in these world rankings. In the 2014 Times Higher Education rankings, for instance, there are a total of 24 universities in the top 200 from these countries. Others argue that Indian universities should participate in the rankings, even if they are biased in favour of the West, in order to measure where they stand in comparison to others. This view is supported only by a minority and faces strong resistance.

There is a need to create India-specific rankings of universities that can also involve Saarc nations, a view supported by the prime minister’s office. Yet, it isn’t clear how this India-specific ranking will help compare Indian universities with world-class ones. But the common thread is that there are problems with the way research is conducted in India.

In order to find out why, let’s consider the issue of research at two levels — doctoral research leading to a PhD and faculty research leading to publications. Certain fundamental issues have badly affected doctoral research in India. First, there are problems with basic infrastructure for doctoral students even in the most reputed Central universities. Doctoral students are not given working space. In the absence of office space, students prefer to stay at home instead of coming to university. Although the University Grants Commission (UGC) has now started providing scholarships to all students enrolled in MPhils and PhDs, there is no mechanism yet to create accountability. Thus, many students enrolled in a PhD programme work outside the university, which they are not allowed to do in the West, if they are recipients of aid. Students are expected to teach or work as research or teaching assistants. This is in contrast to India, where PhD students are not allowed to teach, and thus cannot grow as teachers or researchers. As a result, the final thesis is a haphazard piece of work.

Let me now turn to the faculty research, which is a more serious issue. After the introduction of the Academic Performance Index (API) score, faculty members have been asked to publish in refereed journals or journals with ISBN numbers. This means there is no difference between a top-tiered journal and one published from unknown places. In other words, though the UGC has introduced the API system, there is no mechanism to monitor the quality of publications. Although the Jawaharlal Nehru University has tried to categorise journals based on UGC guidelines, not all departments participated. One can also question the way the UGC has categorised journals based on the impact factor, which is heavily skewed in favour of the sciences and engineering.

World Bank isn’t telling it like it is


In World Bank language, India has not been a good performer on poverty reduction, especially with regard to China.
Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Posted: October 11, 2014 

Policymakers and politicians are justifiably concerned about the level of absolute poverty in developing economies. But there are strong indications that the institution in charge of assessing global poverty trends — the World Bank — is acting like a dirty monopolist in order to survive. The rules of the game suggest that this manipulation needs to be checked. (Full disclosure — I am an ex-World Bank staff member and loved the work and the institution when I was there in the 1980s.)

The problem is as follows. The World Bank both defines absolute poverty as well as measures it. And it also defines the benchmark for the success or failure of individual country policies. In World Bank language, India has not been a good performer on poverty reduction, especially with regard to China. That may or may not be true — we can only know for sure if there is transparency and an honest debate on the methods and data used by the World Bank.

There is no mystery about the methods or the data and, indeed, there has been considerable transparency. In my 2002 book, Imagine There’s No Country, I pointed out that a major reason for the poor performance of India on poverty alleviation (relative to China and any other country) was because of the suspect data collection on individual consumption expenditure in India. Surveys in all countries capture only a portion of “actual” consumption expenditure. In China, this fraction is around 80 per cent while in India it is below 50 per cent. Correction for this survey data anomaly increased India’s performance in the fight against poverty to almost equal that of the record-breaker China.

Civil-military imbalance

Tariq Khosa

The Statesman, 11 Oct 2014| 

The security establishment is firmly in the driving seat. It is calling the shots with respect to the multiple internal security challenges facing the nation. Caught in a political quagmire, the civilian government has ceded the national security space to the military due to its weak leadership. Prolonged sit-ins by the PTI/PAT in Islamabad and massive public meetings elsewhere have caused governance paralysis.
What went wrong, and so soon after the euphoria of the transfer of power from the fragile PPP-led coalition to the PML-N’s numerically strong government? The answer essentially lies in the nature of the civil-military relationship and its impact on the national security policy including internal security challenges. Since the ’80s the military establishment has had primacy over nuclear doctrine, foreign policy ~ especially where it relates to the United States, India and Afghanistan ~ and the use of militant proxies to further regional policy objectives.

Mr Nawaz Sharif was twice dismissed in the ’90s at the behest of the military establishment when he attempted to tread the forbidden path. The basic mistake he made each time was his failure to promote good governance: cronyism, nepotism and patronage took precedence over merit, integrity and professionalism.
Moreover, given the firmly entrenched military-led national security narrative, he should have shown the sagacity to engage in a national dialogue to nudge the military leaders towards a peace-driven, economically viable and democratic vision for the future. He failed to do so. This proved his undoing in the past and he finds himself in difficulty yet again for not having learnt his lesson.

The civilian government’s inaction on vital security issues has further compromised its authority.
Just barely into the second year of his third stint, his government appears like a rudderless ship facing violent waves of discontent. The scorecard of his mistakes tells a sordid tale.
One, his selection of cabinet of ministers was poor and incomplete: he gave himself the portfolios of defence and foreign affairs in order to directly deal with matters of concern to the security establishment. Carefully selected full-fledged ministers in these key policy fields would have provided a cushion in the decision-making process.
Two, he failed to appoint a professional national security adviser, giving the task to a political loyalist whose attention is divided between foreign affairs and national security matters. In order to avoid appearing before the Supreme Court, the additional charge of the defence ministry was given to another loyalist who is already responsible for dealing with the worst-possible energy crisis facing the nation.

Three, the National Security Committee, comprising relevant stakeholders from the security and intelligence agencies, has not been used as an effective institutional mechanism to formulate a comprehensive national security policy. Rather than holding regular meetings to develop policies at the institutional level, frequent one-on-one meetings between the prime minister and the army chief leave an impression that all is not well on the civ-mil front.
The newly established national security division under an able diplomat has remained redundant so far. There is no advisory council on national security issues to source ideas from a wide range of national experts. As a result, a cabal of serving security and intelligence officials lead this vital security arena. Moreover, parliamentary oversight on national security issues has been totally ignored and the resultant lack of transparency gives rise to conspiracy theories in the media.

Four, the first-ever National Internal Security Policy launched with great fanfare has not even been partially implemented. The National Counter Terrorism Authority has remained dormant since 2009 as the government has not been able to select a senior police officer as its chief. Moreover, the interior ministry wants to control Nacta, although legally it is supposed to work under the prime minister.
An intelligence directorate was also required to be established under Nacta for coordination between the federal and provincial security agencies for launching intelligence-based operations, but this has not happened for lack of ownership by the security establishment. A police-led CT task force at Islamabad has not been raised so far.

These failures of the civilian governments have led the military to fill the resultant gaps by not only leading intelligence-based operations across the country but establishing their own CT centre at Kharian for an institutional response to combating terrorism and militancy.
Five, the federal government and its agencies have failed to support the Balochistan chief minister in tackling the missing persons issue and other Baloch grievances. The kill-and-dump policy has not been abandoned by the private militias and their alleged patrons in the security agencies. In fact, a new round of tit-for-tat killings and attacks between the insurgents and security forces appears to have started with bodies of kidnapped Baloch activists being dumped near Panjgur and Turbat.
Six, the Karachi operation, initiated enthusiastically by the prime minister and the interior minister has practically been handed over to the provincial government. The prime minister could not post a provincial inspector-general police of his choice. With lukewarm support by the provincial government, the Rangers are clearly handicapped as a civil armed force representing the federal government and military establishment. Police too is paying a heavy price in terms of casualties due to lack of equipment and technology that the federal government could have provided.

In the absence of a law-enforcement approach, military means of eliminating criminals are reflective of a myopic approach to tackling organised crime. Even this strategy has failed to substantially reduce target killings and sectarian terrorism.
The abdication of civilian authority in national security matters can be fatal for democracy. Instead of empty words spoken in parliament, it is time to show leadership by strengthening institutions and promoting good governance. 
The constitutional commander-in-chief has to prove his mettle. It is time to lead the nation and not sulk under the khaki shadow.


Harsh V. Pant

Ashraf Ghani

With the swearing in of Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, Afghanistan now has a president who has promised reform, development and an end to poverty and corruption. In September, after months of tortuous negotiations, the Afghan presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ghani, finalized and signed a power-sharing pact brokered by the United States of America. The last disagreement was based on how to announce the results of the June 14 run-off election vote audit. Abdullah, who was widely assumed to be trailing Ghani, had insisted that the official percentages either not be made public at all or be altered to give him more votes. The election authorities ultimately decided not to reveal the vote tallies, but declared Ghani the president-elect just hours after the agreement was signed. Abdullah has taken on the newly created position of chief executive officer — similar in power to a prime minister — with a promise to “work together for a better future with trust and honesty.”

The international community, not surprisingly, has welcomed recent developments. The Barack Obama-led administration heaved a sigh of relief with this pact and hailed it as an “important opportunity” for unity and increased stability. Washington also congratulated Abdullah and Ghani for ending Afghanistan’s political crisis and confirmed that the United States “stands ready to work with the new administration to ensure its success.” A day after Ghani’s taking over, the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing for 9,800 US soldiers to stay in Afghanistan past 2014 to help train, equip and advise Afghan military and police forces was signed. A separate, status of forces agreement has also been signed, which permits a small Nato force to remain in Afghanistan after December 2014.

The Taliban, not surprisingly, have assailed the pact terming it a “sham” orchestrated by the US. In a statement, its spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said: “Installing Ashraf Ghani and forming a bogus administration will never be acceptable to the Afghans,” adding that: “We reject this American process and vow to continue our jihad until we free our nation from occupation and until we pave the way for a pure Islamic government.”

The United States Should Look East with India


"While U.S.-Indian relations have suffered some diplomatic tensions, it’s time to look at the big picture and focus on strategic alignment, not petty posturing." 

October 10, 2014

According to the insightful, Nobel Prize winning Amartya Sen, India is prone to being mischaracterized. Accordingly, the United States must see the bigger picture and look beyond India’s fickleness and vacillation in order to recognize that there is a bidirectional relationship that needs to be maintained.

This lesson is important to recall during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit last week. As India’s foreign-policy tentacles reach further east and west, Washington’s expectations for U.S.-Indian relations need to remain steady. While India can be a fulcrum for leveraging U.S. interests in both Central and East Asia, it should also be an anchor partner that practices a different brand of democracy that may align with the United States on many—but not all—things. The United States should support India in its efforts to broaden its neighborhood interests and should not be alarmed when India aligns itself on occasion with China or Russia.

Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh believed that India’s Look East policy would represent a strategic shift in India's vision of the world and place in the global economy. And India’s engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been on a swift trajectory since a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed in 2010. Modi’s actions can be seen as an actualization of Singh’s vision of economic liberalization. The Look East policy is rapidly becoming an Act East policy; this escalation signals an engagement that extends beyond Japan to other Southeast Asian countries.

With the solidification of an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on the horizon for 2015, India’s reach will extend from the Indian Ocean to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Overland, beyond the Indian Subcontinent, India will have access to Vietnam and Singapore. Myanmar plays a key role as the route for major connectivity between India's landlocked northeast and southeast. Connectivity corridors like the Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multi-modal Project are rapidly transitioning into development corridors.


By Dr Subhash Kapila

The national flag of India hoisted on the Red Fort in Delhi. Photo by Jasleen Kaur, 

Objective military assessments would indicate that India’s reluctance or hesitation to adopt decisive ripostes to Pakistan’s and China’s military provocations impinging India’s sovereignty arise from major deficiencies of combat aircraft in the Indian Air Force arising from political inattentiveness most noticeable in the last decade and the traditional lethargy of the civil bureaucrats of the Defence Ministry who finalize all defence acquisitions. How is it that when Pakistan and China have enlarged their Air Forces in the last decade the Indian Air Force was allowed to culpably downslide by perpetuating a glaring deficiency of 126 or more Fighter Combat Aircraft for more than a decade. How is it that the then National Security Advisers were oblivious to this chink in India’s armour? How is it that the National Security Advisory Boards of this time comprising retired senior Indian Air Force officers did not publicly sound the alarm when Air Forces all over the world have become decisive arms to cater for all threats to national security?

A Times of India dated October 5, 2014 had a screaming headline on Page 16 crying aloud: “With fleet on last legs, IAF Chief sounds red alert”: All 3 Key Fighter Deals Missing Deadline, Says Worried Raha. ”In what can be construed as a severe indictment of the Ministry of Defence, the Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha stated at a press conference on October 4, 2014 that “Every project, be it acquisition, design and development, is taking longer than it should. We have lost timelines. We have quite a few fleets which are on their last legs. It’s definitely a concern.” At the same conference one media report indicates that painfully the Indian Air Force Chief had to point out that the Indian Air Force was ‘India’s Air Force and not my own’. In other words it was a reflection of the step-motherly and callous attitudes of the Defence Ministry bureaucrats who process and finalise all defence acquisitions.

The Indian Air Force Chief was obviously pointing out to the inordinate delays in the acquisition of the 126 MMRCA combat fighter aircraft, the induction of the indigenous LCA fighter aircraft and the joint development of the futuristic Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft with Russia. Besides, the Indian Air Force is deficient of 197 helicopters, air refuelling aircraft and an ageing transport fleet over 30 years old.

The most worrisome and alarming concern is the glaring void of 126 Fighter Aircraft which provide the cutting edge of the combat effectiveness of any Air Force both for defensive operations and offensive operations. The figure of 126 Fighter Aircraft deficiency projected by the Indian Air Force years back, I suspect maybe much higher if flying accident losses are added. Can India afford a “toothless Air Force” against the combined threats emanating from Pakistan and China? Can India’s current political leaders not vigorously shake out the Ministry of Defence bureaucrats from their languorous slumber? Are Indian political leaders so helpless in not inculcating a sense of urgency in Defence Ministry bureaucrats’ when it comes to defence acquisitions having a critical bearing on India’s security?

The Indian Air Force today is down to 34 squadrons against 42 squadrons authorised and as per media quotes out of these 34 squadrons the picture becomes more alarming as 14 squadrons comprise of virtually obsolete fighter aircraft. This effectively implies that the Indian Air Force stands reduced to a miserable and pathetic figure of 20 squadrons. For a country claiming to be a regional power and a global player is this figure that would sustain India’s growing strategic aspirations and enlarged operational responsibly extending all over the Indo Pacific region. Is this pathetic figure acceptable to India’s current political leadership? With enlarged operational responsibilities India would need at least 60 squadrons by 2020. It will be a miracle if India could even reach a figure of 42 squadrons by that year.

India’s Nuclear Energy Imperative

The country needs a focus on nuclear power, and legislative reform, if it is to avoid an energy crisis. 

By Neeta Lal
October 08, 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong emphasis on making nuclear energy an integral part of the country’s energy basket to kick start a flagging economy may well be challenged by ground realities. Energy-starved India currently relies on coal to produce two-thirds of its electricity even as – according to the World Bank – nearly 400 million Indians remain without access to power.

With demand likely to double by 2020, mainly attributable to the rapidly growing Indian middle class, already some 300 million strong, and the new government’s focus on manufacturing in the economy (as encapsulated in Modi’s recently launched “Make in India” campaign), India’s power generation capacity may be stretched to the limit.

In July this year, Modi urged the Department of Atomic Energy – a wing that oversees nuclear technology, nuclear power and research, and is directly under his jurisdiction – to triple the country’s nuclear capacity to 17 GWe by 2024. The prime minister also underscored the importance of maintaining the commercial viability and competitiveness of nuclear energy compared with other clean energy sources. Industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has further called for an investment of more than $100 billion in nuclear power over a 25-year period.

However, these ambitions need a dose of realism, given that the country’s nuclear energy market (worth around $150 billion) and the nascent domestic nuclear energy infrastructure are currently unequipped to deal with the projected ramp up in demand. This was evidenced in July 2012 when an overburdened northern grid crashed in the early hours of the morning, leaving more than 600 million people across 22 states literally powerless for a whole day.

India currently has 21 operational nuclear power reactors across six states that contribute under three percent of the country’s total energy generation. The government is keen to boost this to 25 percent by 2050. To realize this goal, Modi has reached out to foreign administrations. He secured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’spledge for a nuclear agreement during a visit to Japan in August. He has also brought on board Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott for a deal for uranium sales to India. China’s President Xi Jinping – who was in India last month – has also evinced interest in nuclear cooperation with India.

Be that as it may, critics point out that the country’s regulatory climate is hardly conducive to either nuclear generation or foreign investment in the sector. And this has much to do with the fraught India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement signed in 2005 by the George Bush administration and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dispensation helmed by Manmohan Singh.

Hailed as a “path-breaking achievement” at the time, the agreement had the U.S. lobbying for a controversial international push to provide India access to nuclear fuel and technology for the first time in 35 years. New Delhi aimed to make private U.S. companies – and in future private Indian companies – stakeholders in an ambitious expansion drive for nuclear power generation. A raft of new nuclear reactors were to come up with American help to whittle down the strains resulting from erratic and expensive power supply.

However, the deal’s fine print ended up dampening investor enthusiasm. So much so that Russia – India’s long-time ally for nuclear cooperation – refused to supply the two additional Kudankulam nuclear reactors in southern Tamil Nadu.

Under the treaty, operators are liable for a fine of up to $100 million per incident, and plant owners for up to $450 million. The agreement seeks to cap the liability for accidents to private contractors, suppliers and operators because the UPA government was reluctant for a repeat of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Dubbed “the world’s worst industrial disaster,” the tragedy involved a gas leak incident in 1984 in the central state of Madhya Pradesh at the Union Carbide factory. More than 500,000 people were exposed to the deadly methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals.

India’s Promising Israel Defense Ties

Stalled on scandals, a missile deal has given the defense relationship a shot in the arm. 

By Alvite Ningthoujam
October 09, 2014

In what could be considered a major breakthrough for Indo-Israeli defense ties, under the newly installed Bharatiya Janata Pary (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India will finally get its much-needed Barak-1 missile, manufactured by the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). This is a significant step for the new government in New Delhi, particularly considering the depleted defensive capabilities of Indian warships. With delivery scheduled for December 2015, fourteen ships that presently lack missile systems will be outfitted with the Barak-1.

Going back a little more than a decade, Indo-Israeli cooperation were derailed by allegations of bribery and corruption allegations. The issues surfaced when India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted a probe into IAI and Rafael regarding the supply of Barak-1 missiles, in a deal orchestrated by the then BJP-led NDA government in 2000. India’s Defence Minister at the time, George Fernandes, retired Naval Chief Admiral Sushil Kumar, and a number of others were involved in the scandal. It was discovered that the deal had been signed by Fernandes over the objections of the government’s scientific advisor and former Indian President A.P.J Abdul Kalam, and against the advice of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). Specifically, questions had been raised over the need to purchase Israeli missile systems when India’s indigenously built Trishul was nearly functional.

In the wake of the kickback allegations, India’s left-wing parties, particularly the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), demanded that India refuse all deals with Israel, and particularly with IAI. In the event, neither IAI nor Rafael was blacklisted, and indeed they became two of the most important Israeli defense firms operating in India. Still, the controversies gave the political left, India’s pro-Palestinian groups, and social activists ammunition to pressure the government to curb ties with Israel in general, and defense cooperation in particular.

However, the CBI investigation was closed in December 2013, with the admission that there was no evidenceagainst the accused, including the former defense minister, former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, a former navy chief, and others. This outcome has breathed new life into India-Israel defense ties, which are now an important pillar of overall bilateral ties. Criticisms notwithstanding, the two countries are working to enhance their defense cooperation, much of which involves boosting the arms trade (worth an estimated $10 billion over the last decade) and moving ahead with joint projects. The framework for the Barak missile deal was laid down by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, although it fell short of giving the final nod to the acquisition. Last year ended on a positive note as the then government approved the procurement of up to 15 Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) from Israel, which will likely bolster the reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities of Indian armed forces along the borders with Pakistan and China.

The green light that has now been given by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which Modi chairs, for the acquisition of 262 missiles has come much to the relief of the Indian Navy, given its rapidly dwindling stock of anti-ballistic missiles for its frontline battleships. The Indian Navy has been voicing concerns over its deficiencies, with ships operating without missile defense systems. New Delhi’s announcement of the procurement at a whopping cost of $144 million is thus a welcome move. It is also a the first major advance in Indo-Israel defense ties since Modi took power.

Indigenous manufacture of defence equipment needs policy reform

Davinder Kumar and Gurmeet Kanwal
October 09, 2014


Soon after approving 49 per cent FDI in the defence sector, the Prime Minister, exhorted the nation to create a viable “defence industrial base” with “indigenisation” as the mission. He launched a “make in India” drive and expressed his government’s intention to permit defence exports.

The long-pending Request for Proposal (RFP) for light helicopters was cancelled by the government and the Defence Minister directed that the helicopters be manufactured in India with appropriate technical collaboration. Now, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has cleared 19 granted industrial licences to 19 private sector proposals and declared that 14 other pending proposals do not need clearance as the manufacture of a large number of defence items has been de-licensed.

All of these are bold steps which send a powerful message and indicate that the much needed “political will” for self-reliance in defence manufacture is no longer lacking. Its translation into action will involve the transformation of the policy framework and procedures to help indigenous defence manufacturers to flourish.

Historically, despite the fact that India participated in both the World Wars and lost over a quarter million soldiers, the country was denied a viable defence industrial base by our erstwhile rulers. Sadly, we have not been able to improve the situation even 67 years after independence. Our 39 ordnance factories are still designed mainly to manufacture only low-end items like clothing, tents, accoutrements and small arms ammunition.

The situation with regard to our nine Defence PSUs is also not very encouraging considering the huge investments made by the nation. Fifty plus DRDO laboratories also do not inspire much confidence when it comes to the development of weapons technology, its engineering into production and system integration. This situation must change, but where have we gone wrong and what do we need to do?

Successive governments from 2001 onwards appointed high-powered committees headed by eminent persons to make recommendations with regard to organisational transformation, in-house development of technology and related reforms to involve the private sector in defence production on equal terms. Seven committees have submitted their reports since then. Unfortunately, even the common recommendations made by them have not been implemented. This is primarily due to bureaucratic lethargy and inadequate public scrutiny.

National security has been treated as a holy cow on the plea of the need for secrecy and the “people” have not been involved in decision making. In a democracy, people’s participation is necessary to justify the budget and establish accountability. We need to build “national security awareness” among the people and create the requisite environment for meaningful interaction between decision makers, manufacturers and the people. Secrecy cannot be an excuse to hide lack of accountability, slippages in the production schedules and escalation of cost. People need to know where and how their money is being spent and be reassured that it would ensure both human security and national security.

Insurgents in Pakistan Stepping Up Iran Strikes

OCT. 9, 2014

TEHRAN — Sunni insurgents in Pakistan increased attacks on Iranian border posts in the southeast of the country this week, employing methods similar to those used by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

In one instance, a car bomber struck a fortified base near the city of Saravan, killing a senior officer and prompting Iranian commanders and politicians Thursday to call upon Pakistan to control its borders. On Tuesday, three police officers were killed in an ambush after responding to a distress call.

These were only the latest in a series of attacks. Last month, insurgents rammed a vehicle laden with more than 1,000 pounds of explosives into one of the outer walls of a central base before launching a surprise attack with a convoy of pickup trucks carrying 70 insurgents, a senior military official told the Fars news agency this week.

The official, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpur of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the attackers had been repelled only after a long firefight and the arrival of reinforcements, flown in by helicopter from other bases.

The Iranian-Pakistani border cuts straight through the Sunni tribal area of Baluchistan, which has been volatile for the past 15 years. In the past decade more than 3,000 Iranian border guards have been killed in gun battles with drug-smuggling gangs, but in recent years the fighting has grown more sectarian.

A Sunni extremist group, Jaish ul-Adl, or the Army of Justice, has been carrying out a program of harassment, derailing trains and conducting assassinations and bombings. It demands independence, but Iran has accused its leaders of working for the United States and Saudi Arabia.

In a statement on Edaalat News, a blog said to be run by Jaish ul-Adl militants, the group took responsibility for the attack on the police officers. “The Jaish ul-Adl organization hereby informs the public that the fighters of Baluchistan have attacked Saravan’s Aspich base located 10 kilometers away from Saravan and killed two staff and a conscript,” it said. “Details will be announced later.”

In recent months Iran has directed a lot of its resources to protecting its western and eastern borders. The attack on the border post in the south, basically a well-defended fort in the middle of nowhere, is not the first. In 2013, “bandits” killed 20 border guards, Iranian officials announced, saying that in retaliation they executed 16 Sunni extremist prisoners on death row.

Iranian officials are now warning Pakistan that they are considering going into its territory on hot-pursuit missions. “The Pakistani government has practically no control over the border areas, and if they really cannot control the common border, they should tell us so that we ourselves can take action,” Esma’il Kowsari, a leading lawmaker, told the Tasmin news agency on Thursday.

Afghanistan: Political Compromise, Security Challenge and Economic Constraint

October 9, 2014

Lt General R K Sawhney, Distinguished Fellow, VIF
Sushant Sareen, Senior Fellow, VIF

After a keenly contested Presidential election, the result of which came under a serious cloud when Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai surprised the odds-on favourite Dr Abdullah Abdullah by crossing the half-way mark, it looked as though the all-important political transition in Afghanistan was unravelling, and with it the future of that country. But Afghan pragmatism, some hectic shuttle diplomacy by the Americans and, most of all, the sagacity of the two leading contenders, ensured a far-reaching political compromise that paved the way for a smooth political transition from one elected government to another, a first in Afghan history. Within a day of the new dispensation assuming office, the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US and NATO was signed, thereby allowing foreign forces to stay on in Afghanistan and provide the much needed security support to the Afghan forces for at least another two years, and maybe even beyond that until 2024. The US, its allies and other countries, including India, have also reiterated their commitment to providing critical financial and military support to the new Afghan government.

Political Reforms

Despite all the positive developments of the last couple of weeks, the situation in Afghanistan remains fragile. The Ashraf-Abdullah combine literally has its work cut out for it, not just to make sure that the political system continues on the rails but also deliver a modicum of governance to the people. Both these leaders will need to put the bitterness generated by the election behind them in order to be able to work together. An even more important, if also difficult, task before them will be to get their followers and supporters to get over their rivalries, turf wars and distrust of each other in the interest of Afghanistan. Although both Dr Ghani and Dr Abdullah have shown enormous statesmanship to agree on a power-sharing deal, unless this spirit of accommodation and adjustment can filter down to their supporters, the entire political arrangement could collapse. In other words, while the two main protagonists understand that they cannot keep sniping at each other because this will tantamount to playing in the hands of the enemy (read Taliban and their main backers, Pakistan), their followers might not be as evolved and savvy as them.

Some amount of political tussle is inevitable, even desirable, to forge a democratic political culture in a country where democracy is still in its infancy. As long as this political tug-of-war doesn’t degenerate into armed conflict between contending players and doesn’t affect the Afghan state’s ability to protect itself, it shouldn’t be a problem. At the same time, even though a power sharing deal has been put in place, it needs to be formalised. Necessary reforms will need to be made in the constitution over the next couple of years to make the post of Chief Executive Officer into a de jure Prime Minister. Alongside, other administrative and political reforms will need to be made in order to devolve power to the provinces and end the over-centralisation that is currently the norm. Most of all, solid electoral reforms will have to be put in place so that the sort of controversy that erupted in the last election is avoided. Quite frankly, the last election didn’t really inspire much confidence in the election process and Afghanistan simply cannot afford to go through another controversial election –both the 2009 and 2014 elections were tainted – if democracy has to have any chance of survival.Even with the best of intentions, fixing the political and administrative system will take some doing. But if anyone is up to this task, it is the cerebral President Ashraf Ghani and the astute CEO, Dr Abdullah.

ISIS Using Manportable SAMs Against Iraqi Helicopters

Islamic State uses MANPADS against Iraqi helo

Jeremy Binnie

IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 8, 2014
A sequence of images released by Islamic State appears to confirm that the group has Chinese FN-6 and that a MANPADS was used to shoot down an Iraqi Mi-35M near Bayji on 3 October. Source: Islamic State

The Islamic State branch in Iraq’s Salah-al-Din province has released images showing a militant firing a Chinese FN-6 man-portable air-defence system (MANPADS) at an Iraqi Army helicopter near the town of Bayji.

This is the first evidence that FN-6 MANPADS, which has been supplied to some Syrian insurgent groups, allegedly with Qatari assistance, are being used either by Islamic State or in Iraq.

The first of the images, which appear to be a sequence of stills taken from as yet unreleased video footage, shows a militant with an FN-6 and what appears to be an Mi-17 helicopter. However, one of the subsequent images clearly show wreckage from an Mi-35M, including its under-nose turret with twin 23 mm guns and a rack of four 9M114/9M120 guided missiles.

The Iraqi Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that an Mi-35M was shot down near Bayji in Salah-al-Din province on 3 October. Iraqi officials said a shoulder-fired missile brought down a Bell 407 in the same area on 8 October. The Iraqi Army Aviation Command (IAAC) flies armed scout versions of the Bell 407 that are known as IA-407s.

One of the IS images shows the contrail of a missile that has changed its flight path as it homes in on its target.

This apparent confirmation of the successful use of MANPADS raises questions about the effectiveness of the countermeasures on Iraq’s Mi-35Ms, all of which have been delivered from Russia in the past year. The countermeasures include the Adron KT-01 AVE Adros infrared jamming system and flare dispensers.

IAAC pilots may also be making themselves more vulnerable. Video footage released by the Iraqi MoD has shown helicopters flying along roads: a practice that simplifies navigation, but makes it easier for militants to predict their flight paths and ambush them with MANPADS.

The New York Times reported last year that Qatar has been involved in supplying the FN-6 MANPADS seen in the hands of some Syrian insurgent factions, despite warnings that they could proliferate to more extreme groups like the IS.

ISIS on the Verge of Capturing All of Al-Anbar Province West of Baghdad

  1. Islamic State fighters are threatening to overrun Iraq’s Anbar province

    Erin Cunningham

    Washington Post, October 10, 2014

    BAGHDAD — Islamic State militants are threatening to overrun a key province in western Iraq in what would be a major victory for the jihadists and an embarrassing setback for the U.S.-led coalition targeting the group.

    A win for the Islamic State in Anbar province would give the militants control of one of the country’s most important dams and several large army installations, potentially adding to their abundant stockpile of weapons. It would also allow them to establish a supply line from Syria almost to Baghdad and give them a valuable position from which to launch attacks on the Iraqi capital.

    The Islamic State’s offensive in Anbar has received less attention than its assault on the Syrian border city of Kobane, which has played out in view of news photographers standing on hills in nearby Turkey. But in recent weeks, Islamic State fighters have systematically invaded towns and villages in Anbar, besieged army posts and police stations, and mounted attacks on Iraqi troops in Ramadi, the provincial capital.

    The Islamic State secured a major foothold in Anbar province in January when it seized the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. It pushed farther into the province in June, but Iraq’s government was able to maintain small pockets of authority in the majority-Sunni region.

    Iraqi forces have suffered numerous reverses­ in the latest jihadist offensive, including the loss of two army bases. U.S. warplanes and attack helicopters have hit Islamic State targets and provided support to Iraqi troops fighting in Anbar. The U.S. airstrikes helped fend off an assault last month on the Haditha Dam, part of the militants’ drive to control Iraq’s water supplies. But overall, the strikes have failed to curb the militants’ momentum.

    Local officials say U.S.-led air strikes are pushing Islamic State fighters back to the edges of Kobane, which they had appeared set to seize after a three-week assault. (Reuters)

Tibet: why is China so nervous?

09 Oct , 2014


China is slowly but surely tightening its grip on Tibet.

The latest sign is the ‘upgradation’ of the status of the Tibet Armed Police’s Political Commissar.

The Global Times yesterday announced : “China’s Central Military Commission upgraded the political status of the political commissar of the Armed Police Corps of the Tibet Autonomous Region, indicating the central government’s determination to safeguard regional stability”.

Major General Tang Xiao, the Political Commissar of the Tibet Armed Police Corps, under the People’s Armed Police, will now enjoy a new ‘treatment’. He will be treated at par with the head of a corps-sized military body…

The Communist mouthpiece quotes ‘experts’.

Major General Tang Xiao, the Political Commissar of the Tibet Armed Police Corps, under the People’s Armed Police, will now enjoy a new ‘treatment’. He will be treated at par with the head of a corps-sized military body, (equal to that of officials at a provincial or ministerial level, according to The Global Times). However, the Tibet Corps itself has not been upgraded.

The Global Times explains to its readers: “Under the dual leadership of the State Council and the Central Military Commission, the Chinese People’s Armed Police is composed of internal security forces and various police forces, including border security, firefighting and security guard units.”

Niu Zhizhong, Chief of Staff of the PAP announced Tang’s promotion at a press conference on October 3.

Niu said that ‘better treatment’ for the head of Armed Police in Tibet “is a major decision made by Central Military Commission based on the special environment and strategic position of the Tibet Armed Police.”

The objective of Tang’s promotion is to better safeguard regional stability.

Lt. Gen. Tang Xiao

Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert told The Global Times that: “It is not unusual that heads of certain military bodies, which are usually located in strategically important areas or suffer from harsh living conditions, are given certain benefits through their ‘treatment’ being improved.”

One online commentator said that it is an official announcement of the militarization of the People’s Armed Police in Tibet.

Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang: Triple Trouble on China's Periphery

October 9, 2014

"Despite the vast differences that set Hong Kong apart from Tibet and Xinjiang, we can find one plausible common explanation for the unrest in all three places..."

The ongoing demonstrations by pro-democracy students in Hong Kong since the end of last month have raised one important question: why is Beijing facing simultaneous unrest on its periphery?

Since the riots in Lhasa in March 2008, a string of violent ethnic conflicts has struck the restive border regions, particularly Xinjiang. While conditions in Tibet and Xinjiang remain fragile and no signs of enduring stability are visible, the Chinese government now finds itself confronting smartphone-waving students in Hong Kong who have won the hearts and minds of the international community.

On the surface, the situation in Hong Kong could hardly be more different from the situations in Tibet and Xinjiang. In the former British colony, Beijing has experienced, until recently, few direct conflicts with the Hong Kong public since regaining sovereignty from Great Britain in 1997 (the only exception was the 2003 protest against an attempt to adopt a national security law that would undermine Hong Kong’s civil liberties). By contrast, the Chinese hold on Tibet and Xinjiang has been more tenuous and, over the last six decades, Beijing has periodically encountered fierce resistance from the Tibetans and the Uyghurs.

Despite the vast differences that set Hong Kong apart from Tibet and Xinjiang, we can find one plausible common explanation for the unrest in all three places: Beijing’s policy of assimilation has, contrary to the wishes of the Chinese government, greatly strengthened the local identities, sharpened the sense of alienation and grievance felt by the targeted groups, and radicalized the activists among them.

The limited space here does not permit us to go into how Beijing’s strategy of assimilation, which combines economic development, migration of ethnic Hans and draconian security measures, has produced the opposite outcomes in Tibet and Xinjiang. If we examine China’s Hong Kong policy in recent years, we can find that Beijing’s strategic thinking, policy instruments it has preferred, and the counterproductive results bear important resemblance to its policies on Tibet and Xinjiang.

At first glance, it may seem absurd to claim that China has a policy of assimilation toward Hong Kong because of its commitment to the formula of “one country, two systems.” Yet, the inescapable reality is that, both politically and economically, the assimilation of Hong Kong into the mainland has been progressing inexorably in the last seventeen years.

China Battles Worst Dengue Fever Outbreak in 20 Years

October 08, 2014


Over 23,000 cases have been reported in China’s Guangdong province alone.

Southern China is in the midst of an outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that affects tropical regions. China’s health agency called the situation “severe” and said the outbreak was the worst in 20 years.

Xinhua reports that over 23,000 cases of dengue fever have been reported in China’s Guangdong province. Over 1,000 new cases were identified on each of the past three days, with 1,661 new cases confirmed on Tuesday. So far, Guangdong’s provincial health and family planning commission had reported six deaths, including five in Guangzhou, the capital of the province. While Guangdong has been the worst hit, the provinces of Guangxi, Fujian, and Hunan are also reporting new cases of dengue fever daily.

Earlier, Chinese media warned that the outbreak might be exacerbated by the week-long holiday that follows China’s October 1 National Day. Many Chinese travel during this “Golden Week,” and locations in southern China are popular tourist destinations for both their warmer climate and their scenic locations. Bearing out these fears, there have been nearly 10,000 new cases reported since September 30, the day before the holiday began. China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) issued a special warning for those traveling in south China to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and to seek medical treatment immediately if symptoms develop.

The NHFPC blamed this year’s outbreak on unusually hot and wet weather in south China, which has resulted in mosquito populations five times larger than the normal level. The NHFPC launched a campaign against the disease, urging people to clean up stagnant pools of water where mosquitoes breed. Local governments sprayed pesticides and handed out free mosquito repellents and information pamphlets to resident. Still, the health agency cautioned that the outbreak would likely not be stemmed until cold weather sets in and the mosquitoes die off.

From October 6 to 7, NHFPC deputy director Wang Guoqiang led a team to Guangdong to investigate the situation. Speaking to reporters after the trip, Wang said that there were still “blind spots” in Guangdong’s prevention and control of the outbreak. According to Wang, stemming the outbreak will take coordination between local officials at the village and city level, as well as joint efforts between the government and the people.

In other words, the dengue fever outbreak touches on a number of deeper issues for China – how to ensure directives from on high are uniformly implemented at the local level (where resources and capabilities can vary significantly) and how to unite China’s civil society with the government against public health threats.

China's Vast, Strange, and Powerful Farming Militia Turns 60

OCTOBER 8, 2014 

The government entity, colloquially called the 'Bingtuan,' employs almost 12 percent of everyone in Xinjiang. 

China has just marked 60 years since the founding of one of its more peculiar entities. It's a vast farming militia that cultivates cotton, tomatoes, and lavender, and dabbles in mining and textiles -- when it's not fighting terror. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), known as the Bingtuan in Chinese, was established by then-Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in 1954 with a mandate to stabilize the volatile Xinjiang region abutting Central Asia. Another facet of the XPCC mission was self-sufficiency: the Chinese who pioneered the country's western frontier thousands of miles from Beijing were determined not just to create outposts, but to carve farms and cities out of the vast stretches of desert characterizing the region, only formally named the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 1955. So they tilled, and built hospitals and schools, prisons, and theaters, essentially becoming a state within a state within a military-style organizational structure. 

Its mission far from accomplished, the XPCC remains active -- even expansionary -- today.

Its mission far from accomplished, the XPCC remains active -- even expansionary -- today. The newest XPCC city, a town called Shuanghe or "Two Rivers" near the border with Kazakhstan, constructed "out of nowhere" in April, to use Chinese state media's verbal formulation. State media says the central government has plans for the XPCC to build more cities as part of an anti-terror campaign. Beijing believes more urbanization and development will help win over the region's approximately 10 million Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people whose members are coming into increasing conflict with the region's Han, who comprise the vast ethnic majority in most of China. China's government says the XPCC's expansion is meant to pacify disgruntled Uighurs by improving their lives, and says the billions it has poured into infrastructure in the region has improved matters for everyone. But the XPCC in many ways exemplifies why Uighurs chafe under the government's development model. 

A ragtag force of about 175,000 people when it was founded, the original XPCC comprised either former Nationalist army forces pressed into service by the Communists, or young people from coastal areas convinced to go west as part of their revolutionary duties. Nick Holdstock, author of The Tree That Bleeds, a book about Xinjiang, toldForeign Policy via email that many of the original XPCC forces "were coerced, or misled, and had a very hard time of it." Veterans like 74-year-old Hu Youcai today give tours in Shihezi, the main XPCC base, reminiscing how in those days, he and his fellow soldiers like him slept in overcrowded mud huts on wet straw mattresses and were rationed just one uniform per year. Holdstock said that while some early arrivals made the effort to learn the Uighur language, that's no longer the case. "Those who came later have tended not to learn Uighur and are generally more resented," he said. XPCC forces now number over 2.7 million, comprising about 11.9 percent of all of Xinjiang's population, according to the Beijing News. 

Chinese TV Provides Brief Look Inside a SONG-class Submarine Operating in the Indian Ocean

James Simpson
War Is Boring
October 5, 2014

For eight days in September, a Chinese Song-class attack submarine made a highly unusual port call in Sri Lanka. For one, the diesel-powered vessel had the honor of being the first Chinese submarine to dock at an Indian Ocean port.

The news raised concerns across the region that China is muscling in on India’s traditional sphere of influence. Chinese state media coverage also provided a glimpse inside the submarine force—literally—and Beijing’s surprise at the controversy the visit created.

The submarine arrived at the Colombo International Container Terminal—a port facility built with millions of dollars in Chinese funding—one day before Chinese Premier Xi Jinping visited Sri Lanka.

The stop was just one part of the submarine’s journey. Chinese naval forces patrol around Somalia, and escort civilian ships through the pirate-riddled waters. And the Song-class submarine was on its way to join them, according to Col. Geng Yansheng, a Chinese military spokesman.

This year is the sixth since the People’s Liberation Army Navy first set sail for the Gulf of Aden. Its warships escort more than 1,000 commercial vessels every year. On several occasions, Chinese ships have responded to pirate attacks on civilian merchants.

The Song-class sub at Sri Lanka is all part of China’s latest escort flotilla. Beijing is emphatic that the stopover at Colombo should be no cause for concern.

“It is a common practice for navies of all countries to have their submarines and ships replenished at certain intervals at ports,” Geng said.

The Chinese naval vessel Yi Ying, part of the Gulf of Aden anti-piracy task force. U.S. Navy photo. At top— A Song-class submarine. SteKrueBe photo

But the port call sparked concerns even as far away as Japan. On Sept. 27, the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun accused China of turning the Beijing-funded commercial port in Colombo into a naval base.

As it moves to secure its national interests in the region, Beijing faces increasing criticism that it is encircling India in a string of pearls—a series of bases providing access to otherwise off-limit seas.

To be sure, China has every reason in the world to do this. The country’s economy is dependent on the Indian Ocean’s vital sea lanes. Container ships and tankers carry oil and resources through these sea lanes on their way to China. In the other direction, Chinese goods flow out into the global marketplace.

Forget the Middle East and Focus on the Asia-Pacific

October 8, 2014

"There is a near-consensus that the Asia-Pacific will have a decisive, increasing impact on global order; the United States should bear in mind that judgment as it crafts its foreign policy."

One of the Obama administration’s primary foreign-policy ambitions has been to rebalance America’s strategic equities away from the Middle East and toward the Asia-Pacific. In addition to serving as the principal engine of global economic growth, the latter region is home to five of the top fifteen defense spenders (China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia), one of which (China) could come to approximate a peer competitor of the United States.

A growing number of observers contend, however, that in view of this year’s developments—particularly, the ascent of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the slow-drip incursion of Russian forces into Ukraine—the United States should set aside the much-ballyhooed pivot in favor of a foreign policy that triangulates between the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific. While intuitively sensible, that prescription is insufficiently discriminating. Domestic constraints make it especially critical to develop such a hierarchy: protracted economic stagnation and public wariness about an activist foreign policy mean the United States must be even more selective about the initiatives it pursues abroad.

Neither ISIL’s depredations, nor Russia’s behavior on its western periphery changes the realities that justify the rebalance: judging by a range of metrics—share of world population, share of gross world product, and share of global defense spending, for example—the Asia-Pacific’s centrality to the course of global order will continue to rise. It is not surprising, then, that other major powers, including the European Union and Russia, are maneuvering to strengthen their footholds there. Already, Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner noted this May that the region contains “more than half of the world’s population…the largest democracy in the world (India), the second- and third-largest economies (China and Japan), the most populous Muslim-majority nation (Indonesia) and seven of the ten largest armies.” They cite the Asian Development Bank’s prediction that the region will contain roughly half of the gross world product and four of the world’s biggest economies before 2050.

While the Asia-Pacific’s heft in international affairs does not free the United States to ignore the rest of the world, it should frame U.S. efforts to handle crises outside the region, including the two that presently grip the world’s attention.

ISIL is vicious, even by the standards of most terrorist organizations: the head of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, disavowed it this February, in part because he feared its tactics—ranging from stonings to beheadings—were undermining Al Qaeda's efforts. But the United States should not allow ISIL’s brutality to goad it into overreaction. Recall that Osama bin Laden boasted about Al Qaeda’s ability to “provoke and bait” the United States: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen…to raise a piece of cloth on which is written Al Qaeda in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses.” The United States can ill afford to allow each new face of terrorism in the Middle East—Al Qaeda core for much of the past decade, ISIL today and likely another organization in a few years—to disrupt and reorient its foreign policy. President Obama has explained that the United States seeks to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”